toward transMad epistemologies: a working text

This post, whose first words are being typed at 12:09am from my bed, emerges from profoundly, severely1 cripistemic soil. That is, this is a post born and homed amidst unruly knowledges, disobedient knowledges, and, perhaps most importantly, dangerous knowledges. About forty-five minutes ago, I received a DM from a new twitter mutual, Professor J Logan Smilges. They were curious about a word –– a portmanteau, really –– that I’ve had in my twitter bio for, I think, at least a year now. transMad. (I feel like a sign-up page on a website, but yeah, it’s cAsE-sEnSiTiVe). I don’t recall anyone specifically asking me about it before now, though when I’ve brought up the concept, people have seemed interested. Either way, it’s something I’ve been sitting on for even longer than it’s been up on my twitter account; since Prof. Smilges very kindly asked me for citations, “even if they’re [my] own work!” Since I’m loath to pass up the opportunity to talk about myself and my bleary brainchildren, I happily present to you transMadness: a working text.2 My hope is that I will continuously add to this piece, make follow-up posts, and witness/engage with transMad meta-textual conversations not only immediately after this post goes live, but also in many future lives. For now, let’s get started. What’s transMad, and why am I doing it?

I’ll spend most of this post looking not at what transMad is, but what it does. First and foremost, transMad cites. Even its name alludes to other portmanteaus: neuroqueer and queercrip being the best-known among them. Many people have offered many different (ever-“working”!) definitions of these terms; today, I’ll link you to coiner Nick Walker’s definition of neuroqueer: a verb and an adjective “encompass[ing] the queering of neurocognitive norms as well as gender norms.” In terms of queercrip, I also return to its coiner, Carrie Sandahl, who describes the queercrip (as person and as method/movement) as confusing the diagnostic gaze, as bearing sociopolitical witness, and performing glitchful, incongruous, confusing in(ter)ventions into possible community. At base, “queer” and “crip” appear as analogous, reclaimed slurs signifying marginalized transgression. When combined, they describe a loop, perhaps a möbius strip: crip (ani)mates queer, queer tells-on crip. The specter of crip haunts queer –– and even more explicitly, as we will see, trans –– and the crip(ped) bodymind holds, moves, and fucks queerly. Who knows where “queer” stops and “crip” and “neuro” begin? Likewise, transMad, whose citational style leaves little room for diagnostic clarity amidst a pastiche of noncompliant text.

I follow scholars like Sara Ahmed and Katherine McKittrick, as well as the Cite Black Women Collective, an organization dedicated to dismantling white supremacist, cishteropatriarchal epistemological hierarchies by honoring Black women as critical, and critically-erased, producers of scholarly knowledge. transMadness owes its continued existence to a continuous refusal of intellectual hierarchy, to a generous and generative referential praxis, and to re-visionings as to what and who knowledge is for, how it’s made, what shape it can take, and who might carry it. This is knowledge refusing Knowledge / the knowledge of the refuse. For me, transMad, like its cripistemic foreparent, emerges via conversations across and along crip spacetime: texts responded to a day or month after being sent, emailed-infodumps and collaborative Google Docs, voice memos when FaceTime proves inaccessible, traumajournals collectively re-visioned years after their writing. Alexandre Baril, Willy Smart, Constance Bougie, J. Rzeplinski, Rachel Fox, Elliot Cervi, Bowen Cho, and countless other comrades in scholarly, queercrip and transMad conversation have been crucial here. It emerges in whispered conversations on the ward and post-class discussions and flapping hands. These conversations exist not only in contrast but in combat with conventional, medically author-ized renditions of transMad life: namely diagnostic codes, behavioral notes, and various forms of medico-legal documentation designed to map us, violently, into hegemonic, cis, sane (and always-already white) intellectual pathways. I mean to say intellectual life is interdependent; queercrip and transMad intellectual life unapologetically-so.

Citation is the practice of scholarly interdependence. This is to say that I understand citation to be political, even a form of direct, scholarly action. To quote the May 2021 Statement of the Cite Black Women Collective, it may constitute “a project of radical refusal with revolutionary possibilities,” inventing and re-inventing community as part of its praxis. Such a community imbues shared knowledge with immense and transformative value, yet at the same time works to protect that knowledge from institutional capture and appropriation. Such a community engages ambivalently and, when necessary, combatively with Scholarly Discourse as such, when such discourse has and continues both to steal and delegitimize Black women as producers of knowledge, erasing them from the intellectual history they themselves continue to build. In the specific case of transMadness, and particularly in the case of Black and other racialized transMadnesses, such appropriation of knowledge can be seen in the aforementioned medico-legal documents, as well as “ethnographic” research and even unconsented-to anecdotes: the Patient is endlessly exploitable by scholarly discourse and silenced in their attempts to contribute to it.

This has long been true when we consider voices and texts marked as trans, as queer, as Mad, as disabled, particularly those confined to institutions, defined by late activist Dave Hingsburger (z”l), via the “burrito test,” as spaces in which one cannot microwave a burrito in the middle of the night. We meet epistemic violence from every angle, perhaps most notably in the diagnosis of anosognosia, or “lack of insight” into our own alleged insanity. Autistic rhetorician M. Remi Yergeau identifies autistic speakers as occupying a “demi-rhetorical” position, in which some are seen as too rhetorically savvy to speak for “real autistics,” meanwhile those figured as “real autistics” are condemned as rhetorical unpersons with no capacity to speak at all and thus no access to the realm of “rational knowledge” about autism or anything else (we can roughly map false tropes of “high” and “low” functionality onto this binary). I observe a similar and intersecting binarization between those trans(/)Mad Scholars able to navigate the Academy –– myself included –– and those figured as messy, as unprofessional, and as intellectually unproductive. I attempt in part to challenge this binary through the blog post form of this essay, if it is an essay, placing it among “personal”, unsightly, and “un-citely” content on a free and widely-accessible platform.

I discuss transMad citational practice, which, when applied to (auto-/)ethnographic writing, I term “interethnography,” in a chapter of the forthcoming Mad Scholars Anthology. I fuse both “intertextuality” and “internet” here, the latter because so much crucial transMad scholarship e-merges in and of digital spaces. Our archives, our emblogged realities, have been foundational in shaping transMadness; though by no means do I think all transMadness is digital, I think the digital –– that is, the virtual, the not-quite, and the unreal –– carries in itself the seeds of transMadness. Likewise, increasingly-popular admonitions to “go outside,” “touch grass,” to emerge from “[our] mothers’ basements” and, to use Sara Ahmed’s language, reorient ourselves to/ward the “real world,” also urge the ejection of transMadness from digital spaces –– and of transMad people from internet discourse. In response, I call for transMadness not simply to be digitally attentive (I first wrote “attempted”3) but also to remain rooted in the digital, given the particular transMaddened possibilities only realizable through digital space. How many people realized their trans subjectivity, their disabled subjectivity –– whether by force or by choice –– during a year spent inside? How many queercrip, transMad interactions occurred with the normalization of Zoom and other platforms; how many seeds of knowledge were sown via cis sane peoples’ newfound proximity to transMad citational chains?

To do interethnography is to do transMad work; this is why I tend to introduce transMadness with a conversation on citation: we need, urgently, to move from pathologies to citational pathways, to embrace circuitous, opaque, and severely-uncomfortable ways of knowing. These are the ways and means familiar to many under the umbrella of transMad, which refers to these very characteristics as cultivated within persons, texts, bodyminds, and communities. If “queercrip” calls, among other things, for a critically-embodied politic of queerness, in which the queer disabled subject produces and is produced by the entanglement of ableism and cisheteropatriarchy as well as the joyous necessity of political resistance, I describe transMadness as a likewise-Otherwise politic of enminded transness. I call for transMad and in that breath call for the crossing of the “borderline;” toward a neurotic, psychotic, and, yes, paranoid transness, a Madness Maddening gender (and attendant to the ongoing legacy of racialized, gendered Madness), and an approach to gender that is unapologetically non-compliant, naming medico-psychiatric trauma and narrating that violence with teeth, with resentment, and with familiarity.

I came to transMadness through my own onto-epistemic exhaustion. Navigating the medico-psychiatric industrial complex, in addition to being a first-generation academic new to my doctoral studies, is at least two full-time jobs. But that’s not counting my introspective side-hustle, those down-times I sit with my/self(-hatred?) and go, “alright, Cavar. Listen closely. Is that the trans talking, or the Mad?” I’ll admit, I’ve been asking myself a version of this question since high school, and as an undergraduate, found the unsatisfactory non-answer I’d more-or-less resigned myself to finding: it’s brainweirdness all the way down. Nowhere will I find basic, essential confirmation of my trans pieces or my Mad ones, they’ve been scrambling my whole life and will keep scrambling long after I’m gone. My brain is queer, as is the way I navigate the world. As a Madperson, I’m continuously toeing, crossing, violating boundaries between the in/appropriate and non/sensical, whether “in” my head or “out” of it. My queer, trans presentation, which can and has demurred on the perennial question of M or F, makes similar comments, given that under a cisheteronormative sexgender hierarchy, only two sexgenders “make sense” (the rest are for “snowflakes”, you see. The snowflake is a radical transMad political position under ongoing conditions of epistemic violence, as is the position of “transtrender.”).

With all of this in / “out of” mind, I bring transMad to my personal-creative-scholarly life. While it has become somewhat of a cliché in our humanities circles to reference standpoint epistemology, refuse the myth of “objectivity,” I hope that transMad will push us to think a little further outside, to paraphrase Gayle Rubin, that charmed circle of admissible academic discourse. Why assert our non-objective rationality when we could imagine an Otherwise of rational? What might it mean to produce irrational, uncomfortable, disorderly, and disruptive research; to engage spacetime nonlinearly (as M. Remi Yergeau notes, rhizomatically, and thus, neuroqueerly!), to ruminate on “fruitless” points (there’s something to be said for the anti-reproductive, anti-futurity implications, here, too –– email me to talk about that or anything else in this post!), and even to refuse the constrictive logics of intelligibility itself? Not only would this open up new transMad creative pathways for those like us, those used to writing paragraphs like these, but also for those unable and unwilling to code-switch at all. And what of our nonverbal comrades, AAC users, intellectually disabled kin; our kin with “disorganized” speech, who Know through visions and voices, and whose transgressions –– gendered and otherwise –– resist all demands for compliance? What of our kin trapped in institutions, whose every intervention is marked as a symptom? We are all, to varying degrees, excluded and ejected from hegemonic citational chains. But a transMad epistemic approach, a transMad knowledge-praxis, foregrounds not only the edges of rationality but the edges of irrationality, the far reaches where even Mad and disabled scholars do not often travel. Crucially, as I gesture toward above, to navigate these reaches is not to produce maps, ethnographies, articles and anecdotes, but instead to dance –– citationally –– with enminded difference.

Why argue for a fraction of a pie when we can, whole cloth, conjure a new one, one that only we can see? Again, I return to opacity, because opacity is critical: transMadness is unafraid to be under-understood. In fact, misunderstandings are fundamental to its birth-story: I am driven to transMadness in my attempts and failures to understand myself, in my victimization by and resistance to others’ attempts to render me / transparent. I am driven to transMadness in the inherently-contradictory effort of scholaring about the constitutively extra- or even anti-scholarly, in centering social media- and blogger- scholars (the fittingness of this introduction as a blog post inspired by a twitter DM isn’t lost on me, given the text-message origins of cripistemology!) when the very bedrock of “legitimate” scholarship is peer-review, institutional gatekeeping, and/as access to funds.

In closing, I return to the title of this post, specifically to the word “toward.” I used it, in part, because it’s fashionable these days to write “toward” things, but I also truly can’t think of a better preposition for a piece on transMad epistemology / praxis. transMad is, after all, a series of gestures, and often a series of failures, whether acknowledged as such by practitioners or merely marked as such by cis, sane observers. transMad is also a wandering and wondering praxis, anticipating and refusing neurotypical, sane, cis supervision in both the structure of our thought(s) and in the comportment of our bodies; we think aloud in ways that are difficult to track, stealing back4 what we need from eliminationist institutions. Fittingly, I did a great deal of thinking about confusion, opacity, and other Mad ways of (not) knowing in my most recent session of Autonomous Mechanics, an anarchist writing workshop I’m currently taking with Elæ Moss and some other wonderful writers. During our most recent Zoom session, my computer crashed two separate times, during both of which I was supposed to be responding to a prompt regarding plural experiences of the body/biome, and our relationships across and between selves both “cognitive and noncognitive.”

Between my Notes app, a RTF file on my untrustworthy computer, and my desk planner, I wrote the following:

Written on textedit –– most pre:crash

As madppl we are often told to sit 

with the discomfort, to sit 

with the factor of our entrails. I do not feel free in this thing or body

or paradigm. A paradigm shift, 

Kuhn says, marks the boundary between two incommensurabilities. Only two,

I ask him. My body is a multiverse and none of this makes sense, not least the static on my screen. 

NOTES APP /:

This, too, is Crip pastiche. By which I mean Mad pastiche. Which I remain (mean) the transgenre moment of my passing

between media. It is what happens when I’m left typing on my notes app: my bodymind, which is to say, my computer, works and unworks in ways I only claim control over. I cannot justify this claim. I cannot enforce it. I watch in horror at my screen glitch. I remember we find radicality in the glitch. In the loading please wait of it all. In the weight of all we are demanded to do by way of tech. As I type this my computer is learning how to be herself again. 

Since this blog post-essay is on the verge of “unwieldy” in terms of length, I’m not going to delve too deeply into the above right now; if people are interested, I can do a separate blog post with both my and others‘ examples of transMad/anti-genre/glitchful writing. For now, I’ll say: the above is but another way to express transMadness, transMad ways of writing, of self-exploring, of introspecting in ways that implicate the many selves I necessarily engage in the introspective process. Again, citation: we’re never alone. I am instead recognizing the necessity of unparsable paths and associative messes, regardless of whether or not they can (be) fit into the realm of scholarly discourse as such.

I didn’t set out writing this intending to write a manifesto. Still, reading the above 2,500-or-so-words back by the light of day leaves me itchy. I am making grand claims, I am gesturing toward something unreal and unrealizable. I am talking about things that aren’t there, that sometimes, it seems, no one but me can see.5 Still, I can’t quite call this a manifesto, defined as a public declaration of policies and aims, both because I don’t claim absolute control over what might be called a transMad epistemology –– as discussed above, our effort is inherently collective, collaborative, and citational –– and because the verb “to aim” implies a prior state of rest. Instead, I contend our brains –– particularly those who experience racialized, classed, fat, multiply-disabled and Global South/Eastern transMadnesses) were framed as broken from the start, and that breaking, that brokenness, those nouns and adjectives were the invention of cis sanity. We’ve never not lived in the epistemological cracks. You could say we were made / this way.


Notes:

  1. McRuer, 374-375.
  2. Working, not only because I’m still working on it and hoping it works for myself and others, but also because this “piece” on transMadness is not and will not be finished when published. Even if and when I publish it “academically.”
  3. “Attempted” is a strange word. In ~mental health~ circles, it’s sometimes used without an object to refer to suicide, “suicide” being the gap, the hanging pause, in front of the phrase “[They] attempted.” I find it interesting and troubling that the verb “to attempt” –– to try –– carries such a pathological connotation when/as applied to Mad practice (and suicide is, indisputably, a Mad and Maddening practice, regardless of one’s personal relationship with the term itself). The “attempt”, of course, implies no guaranteed outcome, and, when casually used, even implies blockage or hardship: the Madperson is continuously attempting, never doing, because to do requires foresight constitutively denied to us.
    1. I wonder, then, whether transMad epistemology could be described as perpetually-attempting. Perhaps I could even take up the trendy language of post-humanist, feminist “partiality,” describing a cyborg transMadness that seeks, celebrates when/that/because it cannot find. A mind ever-lost and -lo(o)sing.
    2. Okay, I’ve used way too many back/slashes and (paren)theses in this blog post. Woo-woo critical humanities scholar Cavar needs to get ahold of themself.
      1. Though, I remind, getting “ahold” of one’s enminded wanderings is not a particularly transMad way of doing things!
  4. Here I think with Moten and Harney’s concept of the Undercommons. They imagine a necessary, fugitive space in but not of the Academy and normative academic discourse, in which study might be redeployed (and necessary resources might be stolen) as a liberatory tactic rather than a tool of compliance.
  5. The manifesto is/as a(n inherently) Mad project?
    1. Given the extent to which they’re made fun of, even playfully, I don’t think this is too far off the mark.
      1. The manifesto is a semi-organized mode of “ranting and raving.” I want to think about the unruly structure of our complaints (thinking further with Sara Ahmed), of the transMad architectures of complaint.


Access:

I have worked to include links to freely-available sources. If one or more of these sources becomes unavailable, or you find yourself needing access to further reading materials locked behind a paywall, email me at my university address for assistance.

Plain Language Version

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